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Ducks swimming downstream at right time

Sputtering start didn't derail Anaheim on march to Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Brian Hunter @BrianHunterNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Anaheim Ducks qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs was in doubt for much of the 2015-16 season.

After coming within one win of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final before losing the Western Conference Final in seven games to the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Ducks struggled to score and to win during the first half of this season.

Anaheim was 29th in the NHL standings on Dec. 29, and came out of the All-Star break fourth in the Pacific Division. The Ducks had the NHL's worst offense at the time, averaging 2.11 goals per game. But they were two points behind the Arizona Coyotes, and once the scoring started to come around, they put on a second-half surge that culminated when they gained a point in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday to secure their fourth straight trip to the playoffs.

Here are five reasons the Ducks clinched:

1. Lighting the lamp

Anaheim still ranks in the lower third of the League with 187 non-shootout goals. But after scoring 99 in their first 47 games, they've scored 88 over their past 26 games, an average of 3.38 per game. To put that in perspective, the team with the most goals this season, the Dallas Stars, were averaging 3.24 goals per game.

"It's just confidence; we're practicing hard every day and everybody's feeling good and knows what their role is on the team," Ducks forward Rickard Rakell told SI.com after a Feb. 9 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. "In the beginning of the year, I don't know what it was, but we're getting our goals in now."

One concern for Anaheim is a shoulder injury to David Perron that has the forward listed as week-to-week. Perron, acquired Jan. 16 from the Pittsburgh Penguins in a trade for forward Carl Hagelin, had eight goals and 20 points in 28 games with the Ducks.

Video: NJD@ANA: Perry fires it past Kinkaid in the 3rd

2. Resurgent road trip leads to 11th heaven

Rakell made his remarks during the second stop on a seven-game road trip shortly after the All-Star break. The Ducks were 9-10-3 away from Honda Center when it began and were routed by the Penguins in the opener, but the win against the Flyers started them on a 5-0-1 stretch heading back home.

Anaheim won the final four games of that road trip, swept a five-game homestand, and won two division games on the road against the Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings to set a Ducks record with 11 straight victories.

"I don't know if anyone in the room is satisfied, but it's fun doing those things," goalie Frederik Andersen said after defeating the Pacific-leading Kings. "It means you're doing something right, and that's all we focus on. We don't really look at the numbers so much. We look at how we play and how we compete."

Video: BOS@ANA: Lindholm's one-timer pads Ducks' lead

3. Enjoying the home cooking

The Ducks have greatly improved on the road over the second half, but they've been banking points at Honda Center consistently since the beginning of November.

Following an 0-2-1 start on home ice, the Ducks have gone 23-7-4, their 51 points at home tied with the Blackhawks for third in the NHL behind the 58 compiled by the Washington Capitals.

A playoff spot has been clinched, and the Ducks have a chance to catch the Kings for the Pacific title; failing that, Anaheim is in a battle with the San Jose Sharks for second place, which would mean home ice in the Western Conference First Round.

Video: ANA@LAK: Andersen spoils Brown's golden chance

4. Two-goalie system

Andersen and John Gibson have taken turns in the No. 1 role this season, and found enough success to give coach Bruce Boudreau a tough decision to make as to who starts in Game 1 in a few weeks.

Andersen's season has mirrored that of the Ducks. The 26-year-old couldn't catch a break in October, when he went 0-5-2, but he's on a 15-1-2 run in his past 18 decisions since Jan. 13. He might have the edge because he was Anaheim's No. 1 during its 2015 playoff run.

Gibson, 22, started with San Diego of the American Hockey League and didn't make his NHL season debut until Nov. 24. He leads the Ducks with a 2.13 goals-against average and four shutouts. Gibson shut out Los Angeles in his postseason debut during a 2014 Western Conference Second Round series but gave up four goals on 18 shots and was pulled from Game 7 when Anaheim was eliminated.

Video: ANA@MTL: Perry slams home rebound to give Ducks lead

5. Ducks fly together

The usual suspects have led the way -- Corey Perry has scored 30 goals for the sixth time and Ryan Getzlaf has rebounded from a slow start (one goal, into an empty net, in his first 29 games) to score 11 goals and a team-leading 57 points -- but Anaheim has shown depth throughout its lineup.

Up front, Rakell and Ryan Kesler each have 40 or more points and are on the verge of the 20-goal mark, 2015 playoff hero Jakob Silfverberg has upped his production in the second half, and Mike Santorelli has been a nice pickup. Defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm have done the job at each end of the ice.

The Ducks have 10 players with at least 20 points this season and seven others in double digits. They also have a wild card in forward Brandon Pirri, acquired from the Florida Panthers on Feb. 29, who Thursday scored his first goal in five games since recovering from an ankle injury and had 22 goals in 49 games last season. Pirri and forward Jamie McGinn, who has seven goals in 12 games since he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 29, each could provide a boost in Perron's absence.

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